Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), which provides power to much of California, said Monday it was considering proactively shutting off power as soon as Wednesday to as many as 50,000 state residents to mitigate fire risk.
PG&E is under intense pressure from state officials to avoid causing more wildfires with its equipment, and has ramped up its use of planned blackouts the past two years after being driven into bankruptcy by liabilities from the 2017 wine country fires and November 2018 Camp Fire.
Experts say droughts and climate change from fossil fuels have made poorly managed forests much more flammable, leading to extreme fire activity.
An estimated 187 Humboldt customers in the Bridgeville, Blocksburg and Alderpoint areas are expected to be affected beginning around 4 p.m. tomorrow and lasting through until 10 p.m. Friday. PG&E imposes power outages to reduce wildfire risks during fierce windstorms and other hazardous weather incidents.
PG&E has been resorting to power shutoffs to prevent its electrical lines from sparking wildfires after its equipment was blamed for causing some of California's worst blazes, forcing the company into bankruptcy previous year.
"Fires which typically would be easily handled with what they call the initial attack are a lot more hard to handle" in these conditions, Kurth said. In addition to high gusts, he said they bring very dry air "and essentially suck the moisture out of vegetation", leaving it tinder-dry and vulnerable to burning.
The outages would include regions already hit by massive wildfires.
© Bloomberg A firefighter extinguishes portions of a controlled burn during the Glass Fire near Calistoga, California, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.
Farther north, the Zogg Fire in Shasta and Tehama counties was also contained. Thirty-one people have died, and over 9,200 structures have been destroyed.
Most of the huge fires that erupted over the past eight weeks are now fully or significantly contained but the gains could be hampered if new fires ignite, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.
More than 8,500 wildfires have burned over 6,406 square miles (16,591 square kilometers) in California since the start of the year, but mostly since mid-August. "They grow much more quickly".
The utility pleaded guilty in June to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter; one death was ruled a suicide.